The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Sunday it would open a competition for proposals to build a large aircraft -- similar to a C-130 -- that could carry and distribute aerial drones across a large area. DARPA officials said they wanted to see proposals for a system that could both launch the drones, but also recover them mid-flight.
Flying conventional airstrikes with large manned aircraft is both expensive and risky for the human pilot, DARPA officials explained. Therefore, the Pentagon wants to consider a "blended approach" that would lengthen the range of small drones by carrying them to combat aboard a manned aircraft.
“We want to find ways to make smaller aircraft more effective, and one promising idea is enabling existing large aircraft, with minimal modification, to become ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager.
DARPA wants the proposals to allow for a flight demonstration of the aircraft and the drones within four years. Officials expect to use the proposals to build an official DARPA program for the system.
Leaders emphasized in the announcement that DARPA wants the drones to be small and cheap. Military commanders want cost effective options to execute airstrikes and this program should provide it.